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Construction Week: What I Saw

Lessons learned from Construction Week at the International Builder's Show and Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Orlando, Florida, January 9-11, 2018.

Several years ago, right after my son's bike was stolen from our garage, I got a security alarm installed. The installer was up on a ladder, snaking wire, when I called up to him, " hey, do you think this will keep the burglars away?"

He answered, "if it were me, I'd get a dog." By then, he had already drilled the holes in the windows and installed half of the system. And a dog was not an option because I'm allergic. The security alarm system went in and my family felt safe from robbers.

But not safe from me! I'd come home late from a business trip, forget the security code and set off the alarm. In the middle of the night, cold and dark, my tech incompetence would wake my family and the neighbors. The police would arrive, shine their flashlights in my face which was beet-red with embarrassment.

After this happened a few times I disarmed the alarm. The heck with it.

This memory came flooding back to me while walking the convention floor at Construction Week 2018: The International Builders and Kitchen Bath Industry Shows in Orlando recently. My take away from the exhibits was...home automation, whether security, smart HVAC systems controlled from the cell phone, CEDIA tech solutions or "Home Automation, the Future of Home Building..." new technology products were the home building industry’s new products theme.

Quiet, healthy, efficient and convenient, smart home automation systems, for heating, air conditioning, water, lighting, security and music were all the rage in Orlando And no wonder, these products are designed with the tech generation in mind, the millennials, all 83 million of them, the largest population cohort in history, who are entering the first time home buying market NOW.

Technology focused seminars augmented what was displayed on the exhibit floor. "Improving Your ROI Through a Better Understanding of High Performance Home Building," delivered info on climate appropriate exterior building enclosures and indoor air quality. "Top Technology Trends: Enhance Your Competitive Edge," presented by Dave Pedigo of the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, discussed how consumer demand and expectations for this technology requires housing professionals to bone-up and better explain these technology options.

On the other side of the generational divide were products and seminars for Universal Design, like the session called, "Make it Personal: A Universal Design Rethink." These solutions, like the aging baby boomers they serve, are low tech. Wider doorways, one story floor plans, ramps instead of stairs, door levers instead of knobs, higher toilets and lower counter tops.New technology gives us remote access. Old technology just gives us access.

Walking around the International Builder's Show, I looked left, and saw an impressive exhibits/ seminar curriculum which targeted first time home buyers. Looking right, I saw products and education which targeted last-time home buyers. This housing market dichotomy looks like a dumbbell, with heavy bulges on either side but a flat line in the middle.


medick and kallfelz

Michael Medick (top), and Doug Kallfelz

"Finding the Missing Middle," a session presented by Michael Medick, KTGY Group and Doug Kallfelz, Union Studio Architecture and Community Design addressed the socio-economic trends and design innovations which address this dumbbell dichotomy. They talked about duplexes, mansion apartments, bungalow courts and carriage houses which meet the needs of today's "middle" market. These house types are in higher density, walkable communities. "That's what buyers want, young or old," according to these design pundits.

Michael Medick joined other designers in a separate session called "The Designer is In: Architecture, Land Planning and Interior Design Plan Review." If you are a designer reading this, rest assured, the home builders think you're trending.

sam rashkin

Sam Rashkin, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Sam Rashkin of the U.S Department of Energy presented, "Why the Housing Industry is Long Overdue for Disruption." Much of his seminar borrowed from his book, "Retooling the U.S. Housing Industry," which I reviewed three years ago for PERIOD HOMES. Rashkin advocates for smaller, better built housing, suitably sited on the land, built for energy efficiency and with a more efficient construction process.

Energy efficient construction how-to demos and discussions were presented on the exhibit floor as well, with sessions about blow door testing, exterior insulation, high performance roofing techniques and a "Best in Green" Awards celebration.

Elsewhere among IBS seminars was the Building Systems Community Hospitality Lounge which also featured education sessions on "Residential Design with Structural Insulated Panels," and "Reaching High Performance with Modular Construction." Both these topics are timely with home buyers. Home buyer research conducted by our Home Group tells us:

Home buyers and owners are hip to SIPs for reducing utility bills.

Home buyers can’t find good builders in this labor shortage, so modular construction has a greater appeal, when designed right.

The newly reconstituted Connor Mill-Built Homes of Middelbury, Vermont, was not at IBS in Orlando. But they can produce well designed, period style, "modular" homes.

conor homes burnt mill settlement

Connor Mill-Built Homes designed and manufactured this stunning Georgian for the Burnt Mill Settlement located in Wells, Maine.

And there was a Remodelers Central venue which also featured a modular seminar called "Overcome Labor Shortages with Modular Additions and Renovation." The convention's technology theme was further articulated with professional remodelers in an education session called "Designing for the Future: The Next Generation of Consumers."

Everywhere I looked, whether I was amidst remodelers, builders or architects, there were lessons on segmenting our housing market's buyers: aging boomers, 55 plus, 40 somethings. Minorities, millennials and next gen. The IBS/KBIS Construction Week is quite an extravaganza! The show producers reported a six percent increase in attendance vs. last year.

This was the third consecutive year in Orlando. Strong attendance, year-over-year, attests to a strong housing market. And this granddaddy of design/construction events highlighted almost everything that's going on in our business, from trendy new technologies to targeted marketing methods... and energy efficient, "low maintenance" synthetic materials which look like the real thing.

Next year the IBS/KBIS Construction Week travels back to Las Vegas, on February 19-21, 2019.

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